M.D.s vs. D.O.s

M.D.s vs. D.O.s

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It looks like a typical doctor’s office: People patiently waiting, flipping through magazines in the waiting room. Heads remain lowered and no one makes direct eye contact with anyone else. Soft elevator music plays in the background as a friendly nurse dressed in scrubs, clipboard in hand, enters the room and calls, “Miss Jane Doe?”

But appearances can be deceiving.

As Jane follows the nurse and disappears behind the doors for her routine physical, she’s not meeting with an M.D., but rather with a D.O.

Traditional Medicine vs. Alternative Medicine: M.D.s vs. D.O.s

Most of us are familiar with the term “M.D.” but have you ever heard of a “D.O.?” An M.D. is a doctor of Allopathic medicine — the treatment of disease using conventional evidence-based medical therapies — whereas a D.O. is a doctor of Osteopathic Medicine — a branch of medicine based on the philosophy of treating the whole person to prevent, diagnose and treat illness, disease and injury.

Osteopathic medicine, also known as “alternative medicine,” began in 1874 by Andrew Taylor Still, M.D., D.O., who was dissatisfied with the effectiveness of 19th century medicine, so he developed a medical philosophy that focused on the unity of all body parts. Thus, the “wellness” concept was born.

According to the American Osteopathic Association (AOA), currently, there are more than 61,000 practicing D.O.s in the United States. Chances are you didn’t even know it.

The AOA states that you’d be surprised just how D.O.s and M.D.s are alike:

  • Applicants to both D.O. and M.D. medical colleges typically have four-year undergraduate degrees with an emphasis on scientific courses.
  • Both D.O.s and M.D.s complete four years of basic medical education.
  • After medical school, both D.O.s and M.D.s obtain graduate medical education through such programs as internships and residencies. This training typically lasts three to six years and prepares D.O.s and M.D.s to practice a specialty.
  • Both D.O.s and M.D.s can choose to practice in any specialty area of medicine, such as pediatrics, family practice, psychiatry, surgery or obstetrics.
  • Both must pass comparable examinations to obtain state licenses.
  • Both practice in fully accredited and licensed health care facilities.
  • Together, D.O.s and M.D.s enhance the state of health care available in America.

But the real distinction between an M.D. and a D.O. is that D.O.s bring a lil’ something extra to the field of medicine:


  • Osteopathic medical schools emphasize training students to be primary care physicians.
  • D.O.s belong to a separate, yet equal, branch of American medical care.
  • D.O.s practice a “whole person” approach to medicine. Instead of just treating specific symptoms or illnesses, they regard your body as an integrated whole.
  • Osteopathic physicians focus on preventive healthcare.
  • D.O.s receive extra training in the musculoskeletal system, which is your body’s interconnected system of nerves, muscles and bones that make up two-thirds of your body mass. This training provides osteopathic physicians with a better understanding of the ways that an illness or injury in one part of your body can affect another.
  • Osteopathic manipulative treatment (OMT) is incorporated into the training and practice of osteopathic physicians. With OMT, osteopathic physicians use their hands to diagnose illness and injury and to encourage your body’s natural tendency toward good health. By combining all other available medical options with OMT, D.O.s offer their patients the most comprehensive care available in medicine today.

Taking a Different Approach

About 65 percent of practicing osteopathic physicians specializes in primary care areas such as pediatrics, family practice, obstetrics and gynecology and internal medicine. Gary Huber, D.O., who practices at the LaValle Metabolic Institute, says that we are in a medical crisis of sorts.

“I have spent 18 years in emergency medicine and it has offered me a unique perspective. I see everything in the E.R. from pediatrics, to cancer patients, cardiac failure, weekend warriors and everything in between,” he says. “A large part of what I see is people in the 40- to 70-year-old range who are struggling with hypertension, diabetes, high cholesterol, heart disease, stroke and autoimmune disease. What I find odd is that we look at these problems as if they are separate from one another and we give then different diagnostic codes when, in reality, they are all part of one disease process. It is a continuum that plays out in an orderly pattern over and over again yet traditional medicine fails to acknowledge it.”

Huber wonders, that despite the U.S. [and the Western world] having access to the best doctors, surgeons, drugs and equipment in the world, how come the U.S. is infamous for being one of the sickest populations in the world? According to him, the numbers just don’t make sense:


  • The U.S. represents just five percent of the world population, yet we perform 50 percent of the angioplasties and coronary bypass surgeries globally.
  • Half of Americans take at least one prescription drug during any given week.
  • Sixty-five percent of American adults are overweight.
  • One hundred five million Americans have dangerously high cholesterol levels.
  • Fifty million Americans have high blood pressure
  • Over 550,000 Americans died from cancer in 2000 — and the numbers are rising.

Huber’s solution? “How about food?” he asks. “Hippocrates, the father of medicine said, ‘Let food be your medicine.’ Surprisingly, the vast majority of medical schools in this country offer no education in nutrition. Diabetes, heart disease, high cholesterol, hypertension and even cancer are all nutritionally based diseases.”

Huber explains nutrition and lifestyle factors promote these conditions. Therefore, he says they are best treated with nutrition and lifestyle changes. “Unfortunately most people and physicians choose to use drugs as first lines of therapy, which typically just covers the symptoms, leads to other drugs and side effects and does little or nothing to reverse the actual disease process,” he says.

Take, for example, the symptoms of a heart attack. “No doctor, surgeon or medication has ever been successful in reversing atherosclerotic vascular disease (hardening arteries) that leads to heart attacks. The only documented reversal has come as the result of dietary changes … I think we should be spending more time asking our patients about their diets, their stress, sleep patterns, water intake, exercise habits and other lifestyle issues,” Huber explains. He says that drugs are a valuable tool in caring for sick patients, but they should not be the first and only solution offered for any given complaint.

Emergence of Two Worlds

Huber says that there’s an emerging trend when it comes to traditional and alternative medicine, “I have seen a blurring of the lines over the course of my career as D.O.s and M.D.s have become more alike than different…” He explains that recognizing the true benefit of natural therapies and realizing the limitations of synthetic drugs is leading to a rapid change in the field of medicine.

“It is a blending of the best from both worlds and we see that now as drug companies are showing more interest in food based remedies. The Internet is allowing people to discover more options and patients are educating themselves and asking better questions. More people are recognizing the difference between disease management and real health,” Huber says.

Gwen Pietzuch, Independent Associate, USANA Health Sciences,was diagnosed with breast cancer in October 2002. Before her diagnosis, Pietzuch had been taking USANA Essentials, natural, daily nutritional supplements, in April 1999. It was only while undergoing chemotherapy treatments for breast cancer that she noticed she didn’t have any adverse affects from the chemo, and wondered if it was due to the supplements she had been taking.

“… I was amazed, as were my doctors, by my recovery,” Pietzuch says. She believes that the combination of the supplements and traditional medicine helped her get through her cancer bout, “I don’t profess that these products are a cure for ailments. However, I do believe that because of the science behind the development of the products … (they) will build up the immune system and enable the body to more effectively fight the oxidative stress and free radicals that are a threat to everyone,” Pietzuch says. Pietzuch offers a 20 percent discount on a one month supply of the USANA Essentials, for first time customers only. Contact her here.

Another person who believes in alternative therapies, such as supplements, is Sheryl Tischer, an independent associate for Juice Plus+. “I first heard about Juice Plus+® from a friend and it made immediate sense to me. I knew that my daughter and I didn’t eat enough fruits and vegetables, even though I knew how important they were. I loved the fact that Juice Plus+® is whole food — 17 fruits, vegetables, and grains in a capsule — something my body would recognize and put to work immediately. I was also impressed that it has been proven effective through independent clinical research…my passion is educating everyone I meet about Juice Plus+® and how good nutrition and good health go hand in hand,” Tischer says. Contact Tischer here if you are interested in learning more about Juice Plus+.
Reality Check

According to Huber, the U.S. has to play a lot of catch up since it hasn’t caught up with the progressive alternative medical therapies of the rest of the world, “Only in America is diet and nutritional supplements considered “alternative,” he says. “Look around the world and you see natural and nutritional practices have been in place for centuries. We are behind the times and our friends and neighbors are suffering. It’s not a matter of pointing the finger or assigning blame, it’s just a matter of moving toward common sense.”


Ready to take control of your health by stopping disease before it ever starts? Click here to see if there’s a D.O. available where you live.


Have more pressing questions about D.O.s and Osteopathic medicine? Get a chance to ask Dr. Huber in person at the Healthy Alter Ego’s Bodyfest 2008 on either Saturday, March 29 or Saturday, May 10th.


PHOTO CREDITS: IstockPhoto.com